HAVING spent much of the campaign looking at ways to instil confidence in the Oxford United squad, Karl Robinson had no problems on that front this week.

Instead, after back-to-back league wins for the first time this season it has been more a case of ensuring the players remain focused.

For while a win at Gillingham tomorrow could take them to the giddy heights of 13th place, defeat would see them return to the relegation zone if results elsewhere went against them.

Also read: STATS – Will Oxford United survive 12-team League One relegation battle?

As a result, Robinson has been keen to maintain a balance over the last few days.

“I think sometimes that’s just as difficult a job for a manager as it is to lift them,” he said.

“Lifting them can sometimes be the easy one, but when they feel they’ve achieved something, you’ve still got to make sure you keep that motivation.

“We’re still nowhere near where we want to be.

“We’re still disappointed and embarrassed with our league position.

“When you look at the league table it’s been very kind to us that the mid-table section hasn’t run away from us.

Also read: Oxford United boss not convinced Ricky Holmes will miss tomorrow's clash

“But equally, (the teams) below you are there to drag you back in.

“We’ve not got away from anything, it means we’ve got a massive game ahead of us now at Gillingham.

“There’s a point between us, so it’s a big one.”

After visiting the 18th-placed Gills, United face two of the sides in the bottom four – Rochdale and Bradford City – next week.

The stakes are high for all three fixtures, but in a survival race which now includes at least half the division, Robinson believes his side’s presence in the bottom seven for the entire term now becomes a virtue.

He said: “We’ve been in this position all season, so we’re not bad under pressure.

Also read: John Mousinho urges Oxford United to take big chance in relegation battle

“I think that’s something you can say about this team – when questions have been asked we’ve stood up to the task.

“Some of these teams have maybe been dragged into it – not so much Gillingham, but the teams above them who thought they were in mid-table safety.

“We’ve got to make sure this week is very profitable for us.”

United will travel to Kent with a squad strengthened by Cameron Brannagan’s return from suspension and Ahmed Kashi given a clean bill of health.

It all adds up to greater competition – and Robinson has noted a difference during the week.

He said: “The tempo in training has certainly gone up.

“People might find that difficult to believe, but when you know you’re playing there’s an element of ‘I know I can come off it a little bit because I want to save myself’.

“I don’t buy into that, I don’t think you can turn your talent on and off at this level. I think you have to be at it all the time.

“When somebody is there fighting for your place there is a little bit more inside you that we can eke out.

“That’s happened in the last two weeks.”